I moved to the US in 2012, and I've enjoyed exploring various cities and towns in the last eight years. One of my favourite places is Pasadena, California, and people always look skepitcal when I say this. Obviously, it doesn't have a beach -- my preferred vacation spot -- or a lot of tourist attractions, but it's a lovely place where I could imagine myself living, and that's part of travelling for me too, to imagine an alternative life for myself.
These are some of the things I've always loved about it.
1. It’s so easy to get there.
If you're flying over to California, you can avoid LAX entirely (hooray), and fly into Burbank instead: it's small and hassle free and you'll be out of the aiport and in an Uber in no time. Of, frrom Union Station in LA, follow the signs to the Gold Line, which is one of the metro lines. The metro cars are clean and feel safe, and there’s even network coverage, so you can follow along on your Google map as to where you are. Easy peasy.
2. It has a soul.
One of the things I find sad about American towns is that so many of them don’t really have a soul. Somewhere like Fort Collins, Colorado, may have something of a town centre, with a cute café/bookstore or two, a Ben and Jerry’s store, and a fountain, but that’s it – if you want to buy anything else, you have to get in your car and drive to the mall. Not so in Pasadena – the area known as Old Town, on East Colorado Blvd (the main artery through the town), has everything you could ever need, from an Apple Store to a Starbucks that opens till midnight to independent coffee shops and a ton of restaurants, and even a car-free square or two where you can enjoy the sunshine and perhaps an ice cream, set back from traffic.
3. Al fresco dining
Just east of Barnes and Noble, straight after De Lacey Avenue, turn down Miller Alley and you’ll find yourself in the kind of little square that looks like it belongs in Europe. All around this square are various restaurants, and on Saturdays in August tjhe summer I was there, they took turns to provide extra, pop-up al fresco dining in the square, with live music. It was magical – I hadn’t meant to eat there, but Wangari Fahari’s voice had me mesmerised, to the extent I didn’t even realise that I’d accidentally sat myself down in a sushi restaurant. (Its name was Sushi Ruku, which probably should have been my first clue.) I ended up having salmon with sea weed and it was delicious, as was the atmosphere in the square.
4. Vroman’s Bookstore
I know: you're suprrised it's taken me this long to mention books. Vroman’s, SoCal’s biggest and oldest independent bookstore, is an amazing place, complete with events like book signings, a second floor, stationery, and Pasadena-themed goodies. It has a coffee shop and a wine bar attached, too. So there's really no reason to ever leave.
5. The Huntington Library, Art Collection, and Botanical Gardens
I’m not one to get overly excited about gardens, but this place is wonderful. Super-extensive grounds to get lost in, read in, slow down and appreciate natural (if landscaped) beauty and also enjoy some pretty good food. And there’s plenty of culture at the Library, too.You can easily spend the whole day there, especially if you bring a book. Disclaimer that this is technically San Marino, but it's a fun drive from Pasadena proper, past a lot of beautiful houses.
On your way back from the Huntington, stop off at Lemonade on South Lake Avenue (between Colorado and Cordova) for some super-healthy, super-delicious food and an exotic flavour of, well, lemonade. It’s self-service, so no one is going to pressure you to leave your table, and you can pick and choose from several salady or hot options, even – get this – picking your portion size, and add some bread if you like – my olive roll was delicious. This place alone is enough to tempt me to move to California.
7. Pretty buildings
All Saints Church and City Hall, within a stone’s throw of each other, are both beautiful buildings. (Also, if you’re the Church-going type, you might want to check out the various events All Saints put on, as well as their Sunday morning service, which, when I went was a traditional Anglican/Episcopal service, with a “very LA” sermon: this church leans heavily towards social justice and speaking out against societal ills. I really liked it.)
8. Book Alley
Yes, yes, more books. This is a pretty amazing used bookstore, amazing in its scope, capacity and organisation. Plus you can even get vinyl records there.
Those aren’t the only reasons to love Pasadena, of course. I didn’t, for example, begin to scratch the surface of the independent coffee shops and restaurants, or go and see a performance at the Pasadena Playhouse, the local theatre of which its residents are rightly proud. You could do worse than living here, but, for now at least, I’ll have to content myself with the occasional visit.